Why a Russian Beach Town Is Hosting the Winter Olympics

The subtropical resort city of Sochi, Russia lies on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Palm trees line the streets, and the concept of a polar vortex is foreign to its residents—the average February temperature is a balmy upper-40s Fahrenheit.

An hour’s drive from the city is Krasnaya Polyana, an alpine village in the Western Caucasus mountains that will host the ski events for the 2014 Winter Olympics (Feb 7–23). The district of Adler, 17 miles south of Sochi, is home to the Olympic Park and all its newly constructed venues: the Iceberg figure skating palace; the Ice Cube curling center; Adler Arena, with its oval speed-skating track, designed to look like an iceberg. It’s cute, no?

Sochi has been a Russian vacation destination since the days of Tsar Nicholas II, though its latest round of guests might be even more discerning. Much has been said about what a mess Sochi’s Winter Games already are—and the Opening Ceremony doesn’t even happen until tomorrow.

Foreign journalists have flooded Twitter with photos of construction mishaps, like very social toilet arrangements and hotels without running water (or water that looks like apple cider and is “dangerous for your face”). It gets better. There’s even a Twitter account just for @SochiProblems, with 77,800 followers and counting. The latest issues? Reporters being locked inside their rooms, cameras in the bathrooms, and laptops and phones being hacked.

And that’s on top of, you know, threats of terrorism, allegations of corruption, and state-sponsored homophobia.

So…sounds like a natural fit for the Olympics. How did this Russian beach resort land the bid for the latest Winter Games? Technically, the country’s National Olympic Committee has to select a city to put forth to the International Olympic Committee, which then does a four-day inspection of each competing bid. And Sochi has a few things going for it: proximity to the Caucasus, history as a tourist destination. Maria Sharapova lived there.

Reporter Brett Forrest digs deeper in two separate but enlightening articles about the Sochi Olympics that I thought were worth sharing.

Read This: “Putin’s Run for Gold” (Vanity Fair)
Read This Too: “Putin’s Party” (National Geographic)

A little less hysteria to close: Lest we forget, people were calling the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. — which has a similar, temperate mountain-to-sea climate — a straight-up calamity. There was a death on opening day and bone-dry ski slopes, but Vancouver managed to recover. Here’s hoping we skate through Sochi without any real damage.

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